One of the most popular times to see Angkor Wat is for the sunrise. Because the temple faces west, it’s in a perfect silhouette for sunrise. But get there at sunrise and you’ll be disappointed with the amount of people. So like many other photography opportunities, […]
Month: December 2014
It’s been an extremely busy and exhausting past couple days in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat. Waking up at 3:45 am then touring all day long. In the trade-off between staying in and making a new post vs. going out and traveling, traveling wins. I’ll post more when I get the chance.
I told myself before my trip that if I could ride an elephant and get a picture with a tiger, I’d be perfectly happy coming home – that’s all I really wanted to do.
Well, on Christmas Day I crossed off the second item: I went to Tiger Kingdom.
Let me describe this place for those unfamiliar. Tiger Kingdom is more of a tourist attraction than anything. The tigers are born here and raised to be ‘comfortable’ around humans. I didn’t go without some hesitation though, as a tourist was mauled as recently as October 22nd, 2014.
The tigers are placed into categories based on age: smallest, small 1, small 2, medium, and big. In actuality, there are only 2 categories: can kill you and can’t kill you.
I decided to get a package deal and go in all of the cages available. The price for this, along with a photographer for three of the cages, was $72.45. After paying, they gave me a ticket for each cage and receipt. They also had me sign an insurance form which stated that if I was injured the medical costs would be covered. Only slightly reassuring.
You stand in the lobby to wait until they call in everyone to enter. In actuality, you can just walk right down to the gate and wait for someone else to walk out. The small door entrance is just to the left of this sign.
Once inside, the tigers are separated by age.
Walking past the bird cages, the first enclosure was the smallest – less than 4 months old. It was located in a covered open-air shelter and the line took about 25 minutes to go through – the smallest ones are the most popular. As a side note, this is the only cage that kids are allowed inside.
Prior to entering they make sure you’ve read the signs.
Once inside, they instruct you to get behind the tigers and place a firm hand on their back. They were surprisingly calm and reacted well to the human interaction.
Every once in awhile they would roll over and have you scratch their belly.
Next was the “small” tiger. To think these tigers are small is laughable. When you enter a cage, they have you move to an open tiger and come up behind them. They use a small bamboo stick to direct the tiger and if they need to distract it, they put some raw chicken on the end and give them a small snack.
Next was the medium size and the large tigers.
I was able to rest my head on its body and after listening closely, I could hear it’s breathing and a distant heartbeat. Pretty incredible.
However, I didn’t come out unscathed. After the first two enclosures, I sneezed. Then I sneezed again. Suddenly I remembered that I’m allergic to cats.
In preparing for my trip, I asked Jen what kind of medicine I needed to bring and the typical Advil/Pepto bismol seemed to be sufficient. That is until I was going to literally rub my face in cat fur for a couple hours.
Suffering through it, I moved to the medium cats. Also, ridiculously big.
At one point, the
trainer employee I was with got my camera a little too close…
I stayed in the cage for another 5 minutes then headed out. I picked up my CDs with pictures on it from the photographers, which turned out pretty well. The lighting wasn’t the best, but it was well worth the extra money.
So glad I was able to do this. And after telling my coworkers, family, and friends about it for weeks, I’m glad I’ll come back with all my limbs attached.
As soon as I booked my trip to Thailand, I knew I wanted to ride an elephant. Thinking that I won’t go back to Thailand anytime soon, I reserved a spot on two different day tours.
NOTE: Due to time constraints, this post doesn’t contain any videos. I will make separate post with links to videos later.
On Christmas Eve at 6:30 am, the van picked me up from my hotel. There were two people sleeping in the back and we picked up about 5 more on our way out of town. It was an hour ride to the elephant camp, so we traded travel stories and recommendations on what to see in Thailand and Cambodia on our way there.
We started off by changing into our mahout outfits (mahout = Hindi for someone who rides elephants).
Our guide, Taz, started off by describing the life of the elephants at this park.
They have 47 elephants; most of which have been rescued from unsuitable living conditions – such as logging, begging, or circuses. We found out that each elephant eats about 10% of their body weight a day. And while they are treated as treats, that still amounts to a lot of bananas.
After a short lesson, they brought over five large baskets of sugar cane which we fed to the elephants.
You hold the sugar cane horizontal or vertical and the elephant wraps it’s trunk around it and brings it to their mouth.
So. Much. Fun.
Next was a riding lesson. Instead of sitting on the back, you sit on the elephant’s neck and bring your legs right behind the elephant’s ears. You kick behind your ear to guide the elephant. Nudge the right ear to go left, left ear to go right. Our instructors also taught us the commands for ‘go forward’, turn, and – most importantly – stop.
But I didn’t kid myself – I knew that I couldn’t learn how to control an elephant in a 10 minute lesson. And the joke goes: ‘What does an elephant do?….Whatever the hell it wants’.
Then it was on to the actual trek.
We made a loop around the park twice and had a nice mix of terrain, with mountains visible in the distance. The path is well worn and the elephants need little guidance, thankfully.
We ended up at a small pond to bathe and scrub the elephants. The water was colder than I was expecting but the elephants didn’t seem to mind.
We ended the day with lunch before the drive back to Chiang Mai. Overall it was an incredible experience and definitely lived up to my expectations. It was almost worth coming to Thailand just for that.
Traveling comes with a certain level of expectations. You plan for months for your trip – looking at pictures, reading reviews online, and talking to people who have traveled the same path. But even for the experienced traveler, these lofty expectations can come with disappointment.
Think about Paris. Outstanding food, romantic cobble-stone streets, and of course the Louvre with Mona Lisa. But this is what most people see when they see the Mona Lisa for the first time:
In fact, unfulfilled expectations has become a such an issue in Paris that the Japanese embassy has set up a 24-hour help line to help Japanese tourists who are so distraught that their idealized and romantic version of Paris doesn’t match their imagination.
Another example is the intimate canals of Venice. Most people think of the following when they imagine Venice:
Instead, many people find a crowded, smelly, and tourist-ridden skeleton of one of Europe’s former greatest city.
But with proper planning, these destinations can help meet their expectations.
The first tip is to type in your location you’re visiting then “crowds” into Google Image search. Take a look at Koh Phi Phi, an island haven for backpackers in southern Thailand.
Adding crowds to the search criteria:
This will give you a better idea of what to expect.
Another tip is to wake up early. While other travelers are sleeping in or nursing from a night of heavy drinking, you can take advantage. Experience the early morning in St. Mark’s square in Venice or the Old Town of Dubrovnik, Croatia and you’ll have the place to yourself.
Outside of waking up early, the other suggestion is to break away from the most popular areas. Take Angkor Wat for example. The ‘classic’ picture to take is this one:
In fact, do a search for “Angkor Wat sunrise” and you’ll see thousands of nearly identical pictures. But what most people don’t realize is the crowd behind this beautiful scene:
While capturing this scene is on many people’s photography bucket lists (including mine – going to be crossed off in two weeks!!) here’s another way to do Angkor Wat:
Day 1: Wake up early and get the classic sunrise shot
Day 2: While everyone else is shooting the sunrise, walk inside the temples instead.
By breaking away from the crowds, you’ll get to see the sunrise glow on the ancient stones and only have to share the place with a handful of other people.
The common thought when it comes to crowds and traveling is “the raindrop never thinks it’s responsible for the flood”. Travel with the understanding that these places are popular for a reason. And with more realistic expectations, less hotlines will need to be set up.